Opinion: Could Sancho be Ten Hag's biggest weapon?

Thursday 23 June 2022 07:00

How do you spend a football-free summer?

It's a rare commodity in the 21st century, with the fixtures schedules crammed and international tournaments stuffed into every nook and cranny of the calendar. But even if you do enjoy the break, and the chance to take in other sports like cricket and tennis, it's impossible for most fans to completely put United at the back of their minds.

And the announcement that Erik ten Hag is to be our new manager has everyone thinking about the future, and hastily waiting for 2022/23 to arrive. What kind of style will this new-look United play? Which players will the Dutchman be most looking forward to working with?
Because, while many suffered with their form last season, there is oodles of undeniable talent within that squad. And the feeling persists that the right manager could get so much more out of certain players.

Jadon Sancho, for example.

Sancho’s five United goals so far Video

Sancho’s five United goals so far

Watch all five of Jadon’s strikes in a red shirt to date - including his equaliser at City...

It was a quiet first season in England for the Londoner, truth be told, following the long transfer saga that resulted in him joining United from Borussia Dortmund.
Sancho's decision to switch to the Bundesliga at the age of 17 was a bold, attention-grabbing move. It was a highly unusual, trailblazing decision for an elite English talent to make. 
His boldness in taking that career pathway was impressive enough. But what he did in Germany exploded expectations around him even further.
And because of his roots within English football, it was assumed that he would simply hit the ground running when he made that inevitable return.
But, unfortunately, Sancho joined Manchester United ahead of one of the most turbulent seasons in the club's modern history.
By the close of 2021/22, the team had competed under three different managers, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Michael Carrick and Ralf Rangnick. Meanwhile, the side's playing style changed throughout the season, as each boss searched for the magical formula that might release United from the doldrums. 
That proved elusive sadly, and the entire campaign was a massive disappointment for all. Most players struggled to consistently find their best form, with arguably only Cristiano Ronaldo and David De Gea having excellent seasons.
For Sancho, it was surely a true baptism of fire. But now, with Ten Hag confirmed as our new permanent manager, the future has some clarity.

Fans' Q&A: Jadon Sancho


We put your questions to Jadon Sancho in this exclusive interview for Inside United.

There's the oft-used cliche that players returning from long injuries could be "like a new signing" but, for Sancho, it feels like this fresh start  could truly be the reset that can ignite his United career.
He showed plenty in his debut season, mind. In the Premier League alone, he created 42 chances, at an average of 1.9 per 90 minutes.
That latter statistic would most likely have put him in the top 10-15 Premier League creators if he played more games. But injuries and illness restricted him to just 20 starts in the top flight.
Still, there was a really encouraging run of form from December to February, which saw him score against Villarreal, Chelsea, Middlesbrough and Southampton, and set up two beautiful goals in the 4-2 win away at Leeds United.
Sancho was even named the club's Player of the Month for February, and it appeared that, after a few months of adjustment, the 22-year-old had found fifth gear.
Unfortunately, the team's form nosedived soon after, with Rangnick attributing the disappointment around our Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid as the reason for the dip.
An untimely bout of tonsillitis brought a premature end to his season in April, with the 3-1 defeat to Arsenal the last of 38 appearances across all competitions.
However, Old Trafford witnessed more than enough wizardry in 2021/22 to know that Sancho is more than ready for this stage; more than ready to be a key player for United. And there's also that winter World Cup to work towards, with the player no doubt keen to earn a place in Gareth Southgate's England squad.
Nothing is certain in football, but we've seen several Reds like Fred and Victor Lindelof grow into consistent performers after teething problems in the early stages of their United careers. So I'm quietly excited what a full pre-season and a clearly outlined role in Ten Hag's team could do for the maddeningly talented Sancho.
When Jadon spoke to the media before the conclusion of last term, he seemed to share that optimism too.

Sancho expecting brighter future


Jadon welcomes Erik ten Hag's arrival and a fresh start under the new manager.

“To start again fresh, with a new manager coming in... we’re looking forward to seeing what his ideas and plans for the team are,” Sancho told Premier League Productions.
“You only have to think positively. My career is only getting started and, hopefully, it will take off soon. This has been a difficult season, especially being a Manchester United player, with what the club has achieved over the years.
“United is known for winning trophies and being up there with the best. This season has been a difficult one for all of us, but I think we still have to show belief again.”
Let's hope that belief is there come opening day in August. Because a fit and in-form Sancho has every chance of becoming one of the Premier League's most devastating attacking players.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.